I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. 1 Cor 9:27
When I was a twenty-something preacher people would compliment me on the tenor and tone of my voice. I would ask, “What? Are you then saying I have a face that belongs in radio?” They said I had beautiful speaking voice. Easy to listen to. Deep. Resonating. I remember enjoying that compliment. I always had wished I could sing, but that talent went to my brother.
The more I preached and got comfortable as a public speaker the more the affirmations came. If truth were known I was only imitating the preachers of my day for I had no confidence in my own ability to speak for God. (I still struggle with this one.)
But because well-meaning hearers would compliment my speaking voice and would fawn over my potential as a speaker I remember suddenly being struck with the worry of losing my voice. What would I do if I lost my voice? It happens. Throat cancer could get me. Lou Gehrig’s disease might get me. Even Multiple Sclerosis could silence me. (My sister has MS)
That was about 25 years ago when I first had those thoughts. I still have my speaking voice. It is even richer, has more depth and sounds more mature. And I have even grown to like the sound of it. (Not an atypical preacher foible) I have a nice speaking voice. I have not lost it—still got the chops.
Paul tells the Christ followers at Corinth that he is concerned about being disqualified. That something in him could cause him to forfeit his ability to “preach”—to speak. In other words he was apprehensive of losing his voice—not literally, but figuratively.
As I have thought of this verse this week I began to wonder about the various ways you can lose your voice. There are the obvious physical possibilities, but you can lose your voice in so many other ways.
A parent can lose their voice (the ability to speak with impact) by breaking promises to their children. Everyone breaks promises. But the constant drip, drip, drip of broken promises can begin erode the trust a child has in what is suppose to be the most trustworthy relationship they ever know. Constant loss of emotional control would be another way a parent can lose their voice.
A friend can lose their voice by breaking confidences and gossiping. I had two friends when I was first married that when we were together away from the other one, we would speak badly about our third friend. Then when I was with that third friend we would mock the other guy. It was quite fun. Then one night driving home with my wife from one of their homes it occurred to me that when those two guys and their wives were together…I was the third friend. They were mocking and speaking badly about me. Those old friends lost their voice into my life and I lost mine into theirs.
I have a member of my family that when they tell stories about the family they always make the character to be a buffoon. Silly. Odd. They rarely tell heroic stories about anyone in the family. The story always makes them look wise, smart, clever and heroic. This same person has lied about members of the family for a laugh to prove some point. Lots of stories “grow with the telling” but it is suppose to be obvious that everyone knows that we are enhancing the story and it is told with a wink in the eye. But not this person…their exaggerations are told as if they were written in the cannon of Scripture.
(For the record: I have never been arrested for DUI and never been to jail for anything. Not once.)
I also have a family member who never speaks badly about anyone. He has done much wrong in his life, but in the last 15 years or so I have not heard him cast anyone in even so much as a shadow. When he speaks to me these days—his voice thunders in my ears.
I am horrified at the term “ministerially speaking.” Really that is a euphemism for lying. What folks mean by that is that preachers tend to exaggerate the truth about details of almost any story. All preachers should be aware of www.snopes.com.
These exaggerations are especially true when it comes to their own success relative to the organization they are leading. “How was church last Sunday pastor?” we might ask. “Oh, thousands were saved and hundreds were healed,” he might say. All numbers are rounded up. Stories are exaggerated way out of proportion to their truth.
I remember reading a popular business book in the early 1990’s and then hearing a pastor tell a story right out of that book word-for-word in the first person…as if it happened to him. I can remember being shocked and thinking “How can I trust anything this guy says anymore?”
The people we should trust more than anyone else in the world ought to be: Parents, family, friends and preachers. It is a shame that because of the evil of impression management we would lose our voice. But I have many voiceless friends, family members, and preacher friends.
I realize they are not disqualified from going to heaven. That is not what Paul means. But they have lost their privilege to speak into the lives of people who need grace and truth. They have to me anyway.
Of course I lost my voice too. Integrity is valuable thing. Once you lose it the only way to get it back is changed behavior over time. And for some people what you said or did will always be the background noise while you speak, drowning out all the tender words of truth your are trying to say or write. No matter how the deep, rich and resonating your voice has become they just can’t get past the background noise. That is sad consequence of losing your voice through loss of integrity.
When you boil it all down, becoming voiceless in the above mentioned ways all stems from the lack of character and integrity. Whether by some act of immorality, persistent broken promises to a child, gossip of a friend, lies of family member or the plagiarism and exaggeration of a preacher; it all comes down to integrity and character.
Reminds me of a little song we sang in Sunday School:
O be careful little mouth what you say
O be careful little mouth what you say
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little mouth what you say
That song should get stuck in my head this week. Better: it should be a prayer I offer to my Father up above who is looking down in love. May I be a man who is known by the truthfulness of my voice and not just it’s tone.